the waterworks - a lifesize interactive virtual shower

in the future there will be no water. our population grows exponentially; our bodies consist mainly of water. the math is inescapable. the day will come when the oceans run dry and water is no longer available for recreation. seeking the instinctive comfort of water, we will turn to simulations to relive our watery memories. the waterworks is a vision of this bleak future.

the waterworks is a booth-like structure built from black iron pipe. duct tape, shower curtains, plastic plants, and a painted jungle scene set the aesthetic tone. users enter from one side and exit through the other; while inside they see themselves reflected on a canvas screen. it is on this screen that the virtual water flows, from each of two spigots at the top. (the spigots are real, attached to the pipe framework.) as the water falls, it interacts with the user, flowing around him. he can catch the water, let it roll off him, or pass it to his neighbor.

initial runs have shown that users can't help themselves but play with the water. further, the waterworks is programmed to encourage users to play with each other. in one mode, colored water comes from each of the spigots, and the users must work together to mix the colors. another mode has one spigot run dry, suggesting the users share their water. at very special times, a bubble machine in the corner comes to life, filling the booth with floating soap bubbles - the bubbles affect both the users and the flowing water.


the waterworks runs under linux on an 800mhz PIII computer. a small CCD camera feeds into a WinTV card, driven by the video4linux2 drivers. a 1986 GE Imager provides the projection. X10 is used to control the lights and bubble machine.

the software has been released as open source at

the waterworks was conceived of and built by Karl Stiefvater ( as a part of his computational art program through the computer science department at washington university. funding was provided by a variety of anonymous private sources.

on location

waverly haunted house
october 2003
(click for movie)
inhibition exhibition
june 2002
(click for movie)

kill your gods
july 2002
(click for movie)
april 2001
(click for movie)

on the street, san francisco
february 2002

creamery gallery
halloween 2001

august 2001